Top food firms accused of "pathetic" response to dietary health

In collaboration with the Press Association

A major study has accused the top 25 global food firms of failing to tackle obesity and diet-related health issues. Research by London's City University described most companies' response to World Health Organisation (WHO) targets on fighting cancer, obesity and heart disease as "lukewarm".

"The findings of this report suggest that the world's food companies are not yet fully engaged with the seriousness and urgency of this transformation," said the authors.

"Companies should be wary about doing the minimum or presenting a few hurried initiatives in self-promotional terms.

"A lukewarm response from food companies to the enormity of the public health evidence amassed by the WHO and researchers risks engendering some cynicism."

The research team studied annual reports, accounts and websites of the top ten food retailers, top ten manufacturers and top five food service firms.

Obesity is linked to an increased risk of several cancers, including cancer of the bowel, stomach, uterine & kidney, and of the breast in post-menopausal women. A high salt diet is thought to increase the risk of stomach cancer.

Only ten of the companies reviewed were shown to be taking any action on the level of salt found in food and only a handful were reducing sugar and fat levels.

"Their performance is by and large pathetic," Tim Lang, one of the reports authors, told the Guardian.

"The companies that appear to be doing the most are the ones under intense pressure because their product ranges are the unhealthiest, but there is a whiff of desperation about what they are doing rather than long-term commitment to better food."

Food retailers were among the worst performers, although Tesco was ranked ahead of Walmart, owners of UK chain Asda.

Unilever was singled out for rare praise however, being described as anticipating health trends rather than reactively responding to criticism.

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